“Lucky,” but not quite charmed

the lucky one

The Lucky One

dir. Scott Hicks

Release Date: Apr 20, 12

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The titular gentleman in The Lucky One is Logan (Zac Efron), an Iraq War vet unfit to live with even his family after three tours of duty, who takes off for Louisiana with his loyal dog Zeus. Why? While overseas, he found a photograph of a woman in the morning-after rubble of a night raid, and taking the time to pick up the photograph spared his life when an explosion went off right where he was standing. Logan is convinced that this was fate, and that he was meant to find and thank her. She turns out to be Beth (Taylor Schilling), a divorced mother who runs an animal training farm and shelter with her precocious son and sassy Southern grandmother (Blythe Danner). Logan tries to explain the picture situation, but balks and ends up working on the farm and finding his way into Beth’s life, as well as that of her family.

Most Sparks adaptations (and, for that matter, most Hollywood melodramas) come with an implicit agreement not to pick apart their finer points at any length, but even by that standard The Lucky One is testing its audience. Not only is Logan surprisingly adept at using every bit of information in the picture to find Beth, but in keeping with Roger Ebert’s famed Idiot Plot framework, virtually all the conflict that drives the film could be alleviated with one brief, relatively simple conversation. Compounding matters is the lack of general chemistry between Efron and Schilling, but the film is to be blamed more than the performers; Efron in particular has proven to be adept at fleshing out one-note characters in the past (New Year’s Eve), but The Lucky One leaves him devoid of his usual charisma and asks him to do little more than brood and look good with his shirt off. Schilling, for her part, sells the various story machinations as well as she can.

Those machinations go to sometimes ridiculous lengths to keep the film moving. The middle section of the film is blissfully happy, as Logan bonds with Beth’s son, inspires her to move on from her divorce and generally becomes the ideal perfect man. Seriously. He’s sensitive (but with a secret), loves dogs, is great with small children and, within the film’s PG-13 confines, is something of a ravenous lover. It’s easy to forget that there’s any kind of major problem at the center of the film, other than that photograph, which comes off as more serendipitous and romantic than suspicious. Since the film doesn’t have a real villain, it gives us Keith (Jay R. Ferguson, who looks like Nathan Fillion on steroids), Beth’s ex-husband and a local police officer/son of a high-rolling politician. From his first appearance onscreen, Keith is Sinister with the necessary capital letter, a threatening villain who clearly hates Logan from the get-go (with his piercing blue eyes, chiseled physique and piano skills to boot), and somehow arouses no suspicion when he repeatedly menaces both Logan and Beth throughout.

There’s something weirdly subversive going on in The Lucky One, though, something that Keith as a character drives home. Suddenly, in pop culture, the sensitive, loving father/husband surrogate is the superior. The chiseled alpha male, drinking at the local bar and demanding that his intelligent young son be raised as more of a man, is now the villain, and the sensitive dog washer is the romantic hero. Even if the film goes to almost insane lengths to wrap up this most unpleasant subplot as cleanly as possible, it’s somewhat reassuring to see a film with this much profile taking that stance, and for that alone The Lucky One isn’t wholly a waste. It won’t create any converts, but it’s more than entertaining enough to please those who want to see it for exactly what it is.